Have you ever experienced that two people really fight each other? Say, one person A accuses person B to be wasteful, while person B says that person A is miserly. The value quadrant is a nice framework to sort out what is actually going on here.
The framework can be found in the book ’Miteinander reden 2’ from Schulz von Thun. Unfortunately, the book is only available in German.
What it is all about
In his book, Schulz von Thun claims that a value (virtue, trait, guiding principle) can only become effective if it is in a positive tension with a related value. Let’s take the example from the introduction:
The related value to thriftiness is generosity. Both are positive values. And you have to strike the right balance between those two values. Not giving or spending anything, the positive value of thriftiness degenerates into miserliness. Likewise, generosity can degenerate into wastefulness. So there are two conflicting opposites: thriftiness vs wastefulness and generosity vs miserliness. If one person tries to correct a degenerated value it can happen that he overcompensates and switches to the degeneration of the related value. I.e., in order to compensate for miserliness, somebody becomes wasteful.
Why I found it valuable
The framework is great tool to understand root causes of heated discussions that are driven by conflicting values. People have good intentions. At the same time, in specific situations they put a different emphasis on two related positive values. As they are coming from a different perspective and judge the situation differently, they don’t see the related positive value of the other person, but only the degenerated opposite one. This is the source for the conflict that soon enough becomes emotional.
Understanding the value quadrant helps to see the other point of view and judge a situation jointly from a more distanced perpective. Everybody can agree that there are two positive, related values that can degenerate. Now, the dynamic changes. It is possible to discuss how to strike the balance between the two positive values.
Discussions become much more productive, acknowledging the good intent of everybody. Here are two other examples for the value quadrant:
Relevance for product management
Trade-offs are daily business for product managers. Sometimes, discussions about trade-offs become very heated and personal. In those situations, the value quadrant can help to show the good intent of everybody involved. Teams can have a more productive discussion how they want to strike the right balance of two positive values. Here are another two examples from the product domain that come up quite often:
Caution: don’t fall in love with a framework. They support, not replace thinking. Frameworks always have a point of view on reality. There are other views as well. Stop using a framework if it doesn’t help to create insights.